I’m usually an even-tempered guy, but CQ has a story today (by subscription) that infuriates me:
The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has put a hold on chemical security legislation, raising concerns about provisions he said could require chemical companies to convert to safer chemicals.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, will hold a hearing Wednesday on IST [inherently safer technology]. But the lawmaker has already told colleagues that he will block the Senate chemical security bill (S 2145), which was adopted by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, last week, if it leaves room for officials at the Department of Homeland Security to require chemical conversions.
â€œWe have concerns about the remaining IST provisions in the bill,â€ said spokesman Matthew Dempsey, adding he hoped the issues could be worked out before the bill is moved to the Senate floor for consideration.
The billâ€™s chief sponsor, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, has said she does not believe there is IST language in the bill. Ranking member and cosponsor Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., tried to insert language mandating chemical conversions at the markup but lost overwhelmingly.
Inhofe and others believe the bill still leaves the issue unresolved and want language explicitly outlawing DHS from recommending IST. An amendment to the bill doing that was introduced by Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, at the markup, but it also failed.
CQ also posts a letter from Inhofe to Collins and Lieberman asserting that the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee doesn’t have the jurisdiction to advance this legislation.
I agree with Inhofe that there should not be a mandate for inherently-safer technologies in chemical security legislation. And you know what? The Collins-Lieberman bill doesn’t have any such language. An amendment that would have added IST language failed on a 5-11 vote. Inhofe’s spokesman claims that there are “IST provisions in the bill.” Huh? Where? I’ve read the bill several times, and two words that appear nowhere in the bill – you can check for yourself – are “inherently” and “safer”.
The CQ article states that Inhofe and Voinovich want specific language that prohibits DHS from mandating the use of IST’s at chemical plants. But Inhofe’s own chemical security bill in 2003 (S. 994, 108th Congress) didn’t contain that specific language. Why is he so concerned now? After all, the President of the American Chemistry Council seems fine with the IST perspective in the Collins-Lieberman bill:
“ACC is encouraged by the direction of the debate in which the panel clarified the billâ€™s essential focus on security by limiting government’s ability to mandate chemistry processes,” American Chemistry Council President Jack N. Gerard said in a statement.
So what’s Inhofe’s beef? Is it simply the jurisdictional issues he mentions in his letter, which conveniently ignore the fact that the rules of the 109th Congress give the HSGAC jurisdiction over critical infrastructure protection? Or is the chemical industry pushing an all-or-nothing, no-compromises line behind the scenes, while sounding reasonable in the media?
From a security perspective, the best bill is one that neither requires nor prohibits DHS from compelling a given chemical facility to use ISTs, but rather allows government experts to make scientifically-driven risk assessments, and impose remedies where private sector inaction puts the American people at undue risk – a system that the Collins-Lieberman bill would help create. For the vast majority of chemical facilities, there will be no need or cause for the government to compel the use of ISTs. But there could very well be cases where, at a given facility, the use of ISTs is best and/or most cost effective way to improve security – perhaps the only way in a rare example. In that case, doesn’t it make sense to allow DHS to have an IST option in its security toolbox?
If Sen. Inhofe holds up this legislation either because of this IST issue, or jurisdictional pique because it’s not an EPW bill, then he is rolling the dice with the lives of Americans. If he wants to submit an amendment on the floor, that’s his right. But holding up the bill through legislative machinations is a disservice to the security of the nation. We’ve already waited far, far too long for chemical security legislation to pass. The time for playing games is over.